Traveling is a bit like falling in love

A few days ago, I got in my car. With a deep breath, I turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of my parents’ driveway.

I had meticulously filled my car with my favorite belongings and necessities for the road.

I had been held in the I-won’t-see-you-for-several months embrace of my parents.

I had double checked for the fourth time that I hadn’t left anything important behind.

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And then I did the thing I had been talking about doing since February.

I started heading west.

Gratitude spilled out in the form of tears as the reality sunk in, driving on Interstate 80.

I had been looking forward to palm trees and beaches and the start of this new season in California. But ahead of me lay thousands of miles of In-Between.

Not that I was dreading this trek across the country. I not-so-secretly love long drives in the car. And while the magnitude of this road trip was unprecedented for me, I had a sense of giddy anticipation for the journey ahead.

As the sun steadily rose in the cloudless sky, the familiar cornfields melted into the open plains that stretch through Nebraska.

img_2438In the late afternoon, my eyes strained to see the faint purple outline of the Rocky Mountains on the western edge of the sky.

The next morning, my car swiveled through the jagged mountain terrain, past cobalt mountain lakes, with placid surfaces mirroring their surroundings. Slanting morning sun cast shadows of evergreen armies, standing salute on the sloping foothills. 

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetMy little Ford Focus sped onward through highways that ribboned around the stony towers, the gray and greens blending into rust-colored plateaus of Utah.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetMaybe it was the elevation, or maybe it was the beauty that made my chest ache. There were moments that I couldn’t contain my elation. It felt wrong to be zooming past this glory at 80 miles per hour.

As I passed the continental divide and started the downward slope, I entered a part of the country I had never been to before. The beauty of the foothills I was driving through seemed to reflect the foothills of this adventure I was embarking on. This was uncharted territory. Stripped of everything familiar, I felt exposed.

It was as if someone had turned up the saturation and contrast levels of my experience both internally and externally.

Alone with my thoughts, I’d oscillate between giddy excitement for what these next few months would hold and dread at the realization that I am now essentially homeless and unemployed. I’d revel in my solitude one moment, and feel the pang of loneliness around the next bend in the highway. I would feel lulled into a mundane daze at the endless miles ahead of me, only to feel a surging burst of excitement when another beautiful mountain range would emerge on the horizon.

I think anytime I find myself venturing out into the unknown, the vulnerability leads to an intensity of sensation.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIt struck me that this trip felt a little bit like falling in love. That feeling when the whole world seems to have a filter of vibrant colors.

Like falling in love, travel is uncomfortable and there’s so much uncertainty about how it will all turn out.

But your heart is ignited and your eyes opened to the possibilities and breath-taking beauty that other people might have passed by.

The beauty felt is almost painful. There’s this urgency to claim it, possess it, to share it.

Both of these experiences leave you forever changed.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWith any pursuit of the things the things our hearts long for, there is a rawness that grips us to the core.This vibrancy is not to be feared or shied away from with numbing defense mechanisms. It is to be leaned into.

This is what it means to be fully human.

Why You Should Have Conversations With Yourself

I’ve been staying with my parents, my cozy childhood hometown for the month of August. It’s been a month of family dinners, wedding planning (for my younger sister), reconnecting with high school friends, and preparing for my trip out west.

Being in small town Iowa means running into old acquaintances and family friends wherever I go. So I’ve gotten my one-minute explanation of what I’m doing this fall down to a well-rehearsed elevator pitch.

The thing is, words can get hollow with repetition. The intention can subtly lose its vibrancy as this thing I’ve been planning starts to feel more like an idea than reality. Comfort and familiarity have lulled me into this sneaking suspicion that I won’t actually be getting into my car and driving out to California in just a few short days. The moment of departure is almost here, and I find myself oscillating between moments of Christmas-morning level anticipation and the kind of self-doubt that punches you in the solar plexus.

After spending a night tossing and turning, I woke up to find this letter on my doorstep.

Dear Allie,

I thought I could remain quiet. I mean, you haven’t been really listening to me for awhile. But I must voice my concerns. This was a lovely millennial dream for you to have, but come on. You don’t actually think you can do this, do you? I mean, who do you think you are?! Annie freakin’ Oakley?

Driving out to the west coast, on your own, for four months, with no job to speak of and a pathetic excuse for a plan?! Where do I even begin to point out the risks of this plan?

This is dangerous. What if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere? Or you come across some creep when you’re hiking? I mean, maybe if you had a husband to go with you, that’d be one thing. But you are practically hurling yourself into harms way.

This is irresponsible. You walked away from a secure, predictable job. Your dream to be a writer is cute, but be real. No one is going to pay you to be an “artist.” You don’t have what it takes. You don’t want to face the heartbreak of discovering that you aren’t good enough. Why not just take an easier job that is less risky? You may not love it, but hey. But at least you’ll save your dignity.

This is selfish. How dare you abandon everything familiar and all the people who care about you to go do what you feel like doing? You’re quitting this very noble profession of teaching elementary to do what!? Travel and do things that are life giving??? People are going to think you are a self-centered hippy.

This is not healthy. You already struggle with loneliness. Now you want to go thousands of miles away from everyone you know, and travel by yourself? That is the definition of isolation. You’re read Into the Wild, right? That guy ended up dead. Just saying.

Change is too risky. Please listen to reason and just accept your ordinariness. Here’s what you should do. Just stay put, get some easy job. It may not be life-giving, but it’ll be good enough. It’s fine if you want to keep writing and making art, but keep it to yourself please! We can’t face the possibility of rejection. Just do the things that are expected of you, will you? 

Just looking out for what’s best,

Fear

IMG_4797I read these words with both a smirk on my face and a heavy heart. I knew this voice well. Fear had been whispering these sentiments for awhile now.

That’s the thing. Fear’s concerns aren’t going to go away. “Trust me, your fear will always show up—-especially when you’re trying to be inventive or innovative. Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into a realm of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcomes.” Elizabeth Gilbert’s helpful and enCOURAGE-ing words helped equip me with an ability to respond well to Fear.

Rather than trying to fight fear, or ignore it completely, I can take a different approach. “It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes too. I cordially invite fear to come along with me everywhere I go.”

IMG_3530.jpgSo I grabbed some morning coffee, headed out to my parent’s front porch, and penned this response.

Dearest Fear,

I appreciate you voicing your concerns. I want you to know that you are heard and that your voice is valid. I can tell that you are trying your best to protect this one wild and precious life that I have, and I sense your urgency to do just that. This is absolutely a scary thing, and there are very real risks in the venture I am about to take.

Yes, I am still going to go. And I know that you will be my companion every step of the way. While you get a say, you do not get the final say.

You asked me who I thought I was. I’m so glad you asked. Let me tell you.

I am Allie.

I am a truth-speaker.

A beauty-bringer,

a gentle brave soul

committed to living

the wholehearted truth of my being.

I am loved,

I am taken care of,

and I am Illuminated

by Love Himself.

Yes, there are risks involved in this trip, but I believe that the bigger risk is to stay in the comfortable known at the cost of being fully alive.

Making security an idol is just as reckless.

While I have not lived the narrative I thought I was going to live, I am stepping into the story I have in front of me. There are no guarantees as I move forward, but trying to stay stagnant isn’t a foolproof way of staying safe either!

I’m not disagreeing with you—it will probably be hard and there will be moments of loneliness. So much bravery will be required. But I promise (as much as possible) to take calculated risks. To not actually put my life in danger or be financially reckless.

You’re right—it feels very vulnerable to pursue a creative passion like writing. There’s no way of controlling the outcome. But I can choose to enter into the craft of it. To daily choose the joy of submitting to the process. What if we made that the measure of my success, rather than how many people like or don’t like what I’m doing? That makes the stakes a lot less high.

You mentioned lots of phrases about this being unwise, unrealistic, and even arrogant. While conventional wisdom might see that, I don’t believe this is reality. I know I am called to live a wholehearted life. These comments, both of being too much and not enough, are the voice of Shame. And that is not welcome here, Fear.

Sometimes getting hung up on “right” and “wrong” ends up being nothing more than a paralyzing comparison game. Sometimes there is a wise and unwise choice, but a lot of times, there’s just choice. Beautiful, messy, complex choice. And I know that terrifies you, Fear. But be honest.

What is is that terrifies you more than the risks ahead? Isn’t it a life not fully lived?

I believe that choosing the things that are life-giving, even if they are risky or hard or require change, will lead to Joy.

So take a deep breath with me, Fear. Relax. I promise it will all be ok. 

Love,

Me

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The Truth about Synchronicity (…or how I didn’t Make It Big in LA)

/syn·chro·nic·i·ty/ siNGkrəˈnisədē/ (noun)

the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

Moments of synchronicity are those goosebumps moments; when the hair on your arm is standing in ovation to the unbelievable luck you find yourself in. “The fortuitous intermeshing of events” as Julia Cameron calls it. It is that coincidence that you needed in that specific moment to remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing. That nudge from the universe  to take that risk.

Serendipity.

Good Fortune.

Fate.

Divine Intervention. 

Or, as Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Heading into this new venture with so much unknown, I want all the synchronicity I can get my hands on.

heart rockSo I signed up for this blogging conference a few months ago. The timing, the location, the theme of the BlogHer conference all felt like more than a coincidence. I was eager for what would unfold in these two days in downtown Los Angeles.

Without realizing it, I walked into that star-studded town with the hope that so many others landing in LAX have.

I hoped that I would get my “big break” in LA. 

Not as a film star or in show business, but within the blogging world. It feels silly to admit to you now, but I had the fantasy that at this blogging conference, some talent scout (are there even such things in the blogging world? I don’t know…) would hear me at the open mic night and recognize my gift. That I’d meet some big blogger, and that she would take me under her wing and I’d be ushered into greatness and prosperity.

See, I wanted some synchronicity that would be more tangible.

Talking about traveling around the west coast and trying to become a full-time writer sounds great in theory when it’s six months out. And it’s been thrilling to have these small nudges from the universe along the way, confirming that this is right for me. But when that’s the plan of what I’ll be doing in a matter of weeks, and it’s still more of an idea than a reality, I’ll be honest. I’m having some moments of panic. I want a little more than just a “goosebump moment” at this point. 

Like maybe the universe could do a little more of the heavy lifting in this collaboration right about now.

Alas, there were no Cinderella moments at the BlogHer conference. No one whisked me away into a golden castle of writing bliss and unceasing success.

Don’t get me wrong. I am so glad I went. It was empowering. Helpful in the details and inspiring in the big ideas. It was connective. There were so many moments with other women who listened well and encouraged. It was insightful. There were so many opportunities to be a listener as well, hearing other women’s stories that were so beautifully different than mine.

But for every moment of connection, there were also moments of awkward isolation. Yes, I got up on a stage and read a post at an open mic night and felt so supported. But another moment found me in the corner of the expo hall, unable to find a place to sit for lunch, shoving a ham sandwich in my mouth while holding my plate and looking out at a sea of women for a friendly face or a place to sit down. Several times I would sit down at a table of warm and inviting women and hear their stories. But a lot of the time I was wandering around the event space, trying to drum up enough bravery to start yet another conversation.

Two voices in my head kept passing the microphone back and forth. One proclaimed “You were meant for this! This is exactly where you were meant to be!” But the voice of Self-Doubt would kick Encouragement off the stage and sneer “What the heck are you doing here? You don’t have what it takes.”

In wrestling with my fear and insecurity, I started second-guessing the generosity of this universe who supposedly conspires with me. This synchronicity business started feeling more like a mirage and less like a real collaboration with Spirit.

I needed to be reminded of how this whole thing works.

sparklerI needed to remember that synchronicity is a partnership.

It is not all on our own shoulders. We have this very American idea that any success we get is from our own efforts and ability to pull some bootstraps up. This is a myth. Everything we receive is a gift.

But at the same time, these gifts come when we are rising up to meet them. It is in the diligent showing up in the creative act of choosing to be fully alive that we find these moments of divine intervention. This weekend was such a reminder that it’s not an endless stream of glamorous moments. However, when we lean into these uncomfortable moments that do come, it rarely ends in regret.”The minute you are willing to accept the help of this collaborator, you will see useful bits of help everywhere in your life.” We labor, but we don’t labor alone.

I needed to remember that synchronicity happens in the dynamic flow of connection.

I have noticed that when I surround myself with others that are living wholehearted lives, there are many more moments of synchronicity. Our conversations are ripe with connections and correlations. “No way! It’s crazy that you mention that, because I was just thinking about…”

Austin Kleon calls it finding your “scenius.” Debunking the myth that “genius” and “talent” are born in isolated individuals, Kleon talks about how we thrive in an ecosystem in which creativity is ignited, fostered, amplified. We need to shed the impulse to hoard our ideas. We don’t need to feel threatened by others that are pursuing similar things. Rather, we should be diving into these relationships where discoveries become collaborative adventures.

Because it is the people we know that lead to the connections with the tangible next steps. 

I needed to remember that synchronicity is pointing me towards joy, not necessarily success. 

It has to be about the process, not the results.

I keep hearing that message. I need to be reminded of it often. If I try to anchor my happiness into a success that is measured by the amount of people that follow my blog, or how well my writing career takes off, I’ll go crazy.

Happiness isn’t found in some future moment of ease and success. It is always and forever found in the present moment.

The creative process, choosing a life that aligns with what makes you feel alive, is a mysterious process. It is not meant to be controlled towards a specific outcome. When the process becomes the focus, I can take myself less seriously. Without needing to know the ending, I can enter into my story more fully. And when the opportunities that present themselves lead to unexpected plot twists, I can be more open-handed.

Ultimately, I needed to remember that the source of this synchronicity is a God who is always in a good mood.

On the plane ride back, as I was wrestling with this fear and self-doubt, I prayed something to the effect of: “God, I’m kind of freaking out here. I don’t want to be dramatic, but Holy Shit! What the hell am I going to do in a month when I’m back on the west coast, with no job and no place to stay?! I’m asking you to show up here. Now. I need a place to stay, and I need to find a sustainable source of income. It feels so scary not knowing the particulars so close to the launching point, so I’m asking you to help.”

(Some of my best conversations with God include profanity. And I love that He’s not scared off by this honesty.)

And do you know what He did? Less than 24 hours from then, I got my first house-sitting job. Three weeks in Northern California, exactly what I had been hoping for.

Now how’s that for some “fortuitous intermeshing of events”?!

He’s not stingy or stand-offish. Not in the least. See, God is an artist, and I suspect that He is rather fond of other artists. He likes it when we ask for Him for big things and expect Him to show up. 

girl yellow umbrellaRarely is synchronicity like winning a sweepstakes. It requires us to “stand knee deep in the flow of life and pay close attention.” (Julia Cameron) It means being willing to be uncomfortable. It means submitting to the stretches of showing up daily, even with no tangible evidence to show for your efforts. It means opening up to risk and probable failure as necessary part of the process. It cannot be formalized or replicated.

Mysteriously, unexpectedly, and not always as quick as we’d like, we receive what we need. Often, if we have the eyes to see it, this provision is abundant–more than enough.

It’s not one moment of breaking into success, but millions of micro-moments. Of choosing, right now to step into the flow.

Large Gatherings of Women Make Me Itchy

I pulled up to the driveway and checked the address. I checked my lipstick in the mirror and grabbed the bottle of wine in my backseat. I was on the phone with my sister and let her know, with a sigh, that I had arrived at the girl’s night that I was going to.

“I hate going to these things. I mean, I’m always glad I do in the end. But you know…large gatherings of women make me…itchy.”

She laughed at my melodramatic statement. “What do you mean?”

“It’s just… all the small talk, and the stupid rom-com that we’ll probably watch. And the giggling! I can’t even…”

I, who small talk on the daily.

I, the one who had almost watched a predictable romance movie on Netflix just last week.

The one who giggles with the best of them, now sighing like a martyr.

“Maybe, when a certain number of women gather, it hits this critical mass of estrogen that just makes my skin crawl,” I theorized on the phone as I headed in.

The night ended up being fine. More than fine. I had several life-giving conversations, enjoyed someone’s retelling of the hilarious thing that had happened to them at work, and didn’t even end up watching a movie.girl hiding face

As I drove home, I thought about why the idea of getting together with my peers is always so intimidating.

It’s deeper than the surface level complaints I had made to my sister. When women come together, there are other, more subtle dynamics at play.

I enter into the game of constant comparing. I know this steals my joy. My head knowledge is filled with self-help articles online and the things my junior high counselor told me about my own uniqueness. But my heart slides so easily into the slippery slope of trying to measure up.

I believe the lie that I don’t belong. Somehow, every other person coming to the gathering seems to effortlessly slide into conversation. The inside jokes floating around me push me away, making me feel “less than.”

It can become so easy to wallow in our own familiar lies of “not enough” and “too much.” My inner dialog becomes this toxic flow of criticism. I try to slip into the script of pretending like I have it all together. Or I feel myself withdrawing, wanting to hide in my insecurities.

Please tell me I’m not alone in this.

I’m becoming more and more suspicious that we’ve all been hoodwinked. We’re all sitting in these gatherings, believing that we are islands of undesired company.

But that can’t actually be reality.

I’ve caught it in the glimpses. The unguarded moments of others in the room. The moment of honesty in the church foyer. “I didn’t want to come, but I made myself.” Me too, sister.

There are moments of epiphany. The frame of reference that I’m alone in my feeling weird falls away and I realize that everyone else in the room is just as human. It’s just us here.

Each one of us carries our insecurities and we are together in our feeling alone. Even that girl that always seems so put together has moments of feeling exactly like I do.

girl alone in crowd

So this week, I’m getting on a plane and heading to Los Angeles. I’ll head downtown to a huge conference room with thousands of women for the annual BlogHer conference. In this new world that I’m entering into, the level of intimidation is hitting record levels. My eyes widen and my stomach drops at thought of it.

But choosing to fully inhabit my life means reckoning with these thought patterns and lies that have been a part of my narrative. It means choosing to change my frame of reference. It’s time to get over my allergy to large gatherings of women.

And the vaccine is realizing that the comparison game is a dead end.

These are the truths that I am arming myself with as I head into this Whirlwind Weekend of Women.

(I realize that all of these manifestos are directly from Brene Brown… Man, I love that woman.)

I am worthy of love and belonging.

girl hands to heartThis anthem has been so powerful for me. When the shame monsters come calling, I chant this until it feels true.

Because if I am worthy of love, I no longer have anything to prove. If I am worthy of belonging than I can let go of the exhausting hustle of trying to impress anyone. Rather than having to expend so much energy trying to defend my existence, I can rest in the fact that my identity is secure.

My place of security doesn’t reside in my own abilities, qualities or talents, but because I am loved by Love Himself.  

“He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is love.” C.S. Lewis

From that place of rest, I am actually free to engage with other people’s stories. To love others not so that they will admire me or need me or think that I’m great. But just love them as they are, just as I am loved.

Everyone else is making it up as they go, just like me.

girl ponytail sunsetI think I’ve long operated under the assumption that other people have this innate quality of ease and expertise that I simply don’t possess– that somehow things just come easily to them.

This insecurity is magnified when I step into a space of uncharted territory. I’m relatively new to this blogging thing. The inner dialog goes something like this: I don’t know anything. And now I’m putting myself into this world of Super Bloggers. They’re going to see me for the fraud I am quicker than you can say “search engine optimization.”

How do I keep that inner conversation from derailing me completely? By realizing that they truly are human. That they had their own shaky moments of feeling like a novice too. And that talent is mostly a myth we tell ourselves to feel sorry for ourselves or make excuses.

True connection happens when we choose to be vulnerable.

women coffee shopWhen I choose to be guarded, or attempt to look like I have it all together, I end up feeling more exhausted, isolated and threatened by others. It’s when I admit my own insecurities that the walls come down and connection happens.

It feels counter-intuitive. Our defense mechanisms of hiding and striving are deeply ingrained. But I have never regretted pushing past that impulse of self-protection. True vulnerability always leads to freedom.

It looks like sitting down next to someone else who is alone. It looks like being brave enough to admit that you’re hurt. It looks like sharing the truth of what it is like to be you, in all your dazzling paradoxes. It looks like not apologizing for being comfortable in your own skin.

I live in a world of abundance.

grapes Maja PetricLike the flu, jealousy can spring up quickly and when you least expect it. Why is it so hard to be genuinely happy when we see our peers succeeding? There’s this belief that there’s only so much happiness, a limited quantity of the things we desire. So then, if someone else has what we’re longing for, we feel personally slighted.

Scarcity is a lie. Contentment is not like the dessert at a potluck that is picked over by the time you get to it. What if we flipped this mindset on its head? What if we believed in an abundant world where there truly was more than enough to go around? Then we could step out of a posture of discontented jealousy and into one of curiosity. We could pass through the trap of comparison unscathed. Other women’s lives are not measuring sticks to be compared, but stories to be celebrated.

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I am nowhere near fully and functionally believing these manifestos. But I am a few steps closer to bringing these truths into the interactions with women that I have. I am in process. And that is more than ok. And it’s such a relief, knowing I’m not alone. So I ask you:

What truths have you been discovering that free you to love people around you?

How do you step into the truth of your belonging?

What stories do you have of becoming comfortable in your own skin, even in the midst of (sometimes intimidating) large groups of estrogen?

 

How Transitions are Kind of Like Getting Lost on a Hike

Transition.

It has become an unexpected theme these past few months, as I’ve processed out loud the heart wrenching and messy and beautiful process of saying goodbye to one chapter and heading into a new one. This week, the transition is reaching a pinnacle, as I move out of my Kansas City house I’ve called home for three years, say goodbye to the dear friends I’ve shared life with over the last five years.

The process of transitions seemed to mirror my experience of hiking on the unfamiliar mountain trails that I went on these past few weeks while housesitting for some friends in Denver.

Most adventures involve feeling lost at some point. Thinking back on the hikes, it’s the moments of uncertainty that made the journey memorable. It’s the unplanned routes that lead to the most breath-taking vistas. And yet, in the midst of it, sweaty and thirsty, and more out of breath than you should be for a healthy young person, you feel it all. The panic of feeling lost, the drudgery of the uphill stretches, the relief at discovering you are on the right trail and the moments of awe on the crest of the mountain.

Always, transitions move us forward.* “Further up and further on” as C.S. Lewis calls our invitation into more. Below is the description of the journey that I’ve been on that has mirrored the adventures my feet are traveling.

The Dead End

The comforting, well-worn path peters out into a copse of trees. Squinting in the high-altitude sunlight, I peer beyond the boulders for the continued path. The well-worn grooves of the path melt into the pine-needled floor. Unfolding the crumpled map I slipped into my back pocket, I try to make sense of the tangled ribbons of multicolored trails, feeling more disoriented by the moment. Glancing around for a boulder, I sit down to catch my breath and take some gulps from my lukewarm water bottle.  As my breaths come in more steadily, I take in the valley stretching out below the bluff I’ve come against. Glaciers of cloud shadows glide over the evergreen carpeted foothills ahead. Off in the distance, a purple bruised  sky threatens rain. My plan for the 3.2-mile trail that my friend recommended is decidedly not what I am on, I figure, studying at the map again.

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We may know the end of a road is coming (a graduation, the end of a lease). Or the end may come abruptly and unannounced (the end of a relationship or the loss of a job). Either way, a “dead end” always involves a death of “life as we currently know it.” Sometimes these ends are tangible and external, but there is a multitude of deaths that we experience that are more subtle and internal.

A dead end may come in the form of the end of a “honeymoon period” in the newness of  a relationship. Or it might be the loss of your sense of wholeness in a season of failure, depression, or woundedness. It can even be the feeling of loss we experience as our own preconceived ideas about how the world works unravel.

The dead end I faced this past year was a culmination of so many of these things. The realization that the career I was in wasn’t for me anymore. The decision to travel which meant letting go of the place I’ve called home. I’ve experienced many small deaths to my idea of “certainty” this past year as things I thought were definite became more unclear.

The thing about dead ends is that have to name them. See them for what they are, and then turn around. The only way to move forward is to get back on the path.

A Fork In the Road

Resituating my backpack on my shoulders, I start retracing my steps. I remember that a half mile back there was a signpost, so I make that my goal. It’s uphill terrain, the roots of the pine trees making steep stair steps further and further up. I get to the place where there’s a fork in the road. I could turn right. I know that a ways down the path is the parking lot, the map with the reassuring “You Are Here” arrow. Or I could turn left. The path continues up, switchbacks preventing me from seeing the final destination. With another cursory glance towards to storm clouds on the horizon, I turn left and continue up the slope.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIn the wake of our deaths, we are faced with a choice. A strong pull within us for self-protection and self-preservation calls for staying put or turning back. But there’s another whisper inside us as well. The call to adventure. The call to live life to the fullest possible extent.

And that involves risk. It involves the challenging work of moving forward, even in the uncertainty. Life is found in forward motion, not back. Retreating, refusing to move on will either result in unhealthy fantasy or ever intensifying bitterness.

We live in a universe that is always moving forward. Inner transformation happens when we join in this unfinished business of transformation that all of Creation is undergoing. When we choose the riskier path of inner transformation.

Feeling Lost

All bravado from the fork in the road ebbs away with the wind whistling through the juniper leaves. What if I’m heading further away from where I wanted to go? What if I hit another dead end and I have to turn back, this time five miles away from my car? What if it starts raining? The rustle of leaves makes my heart go into double time. Moments later, my eyes roll in self-mockery as a ground squirrel darts across the path. My eyes search for a guidepost, reassurance that I’m on the right trail. But all I see in my line of sight are more and more switchbacks.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetThis part of the journey is messy. Grieving the loss of comfortable familiarity is a part that cannot be skipped in the process of transition. Moments of self-doubt, the arrival of fear and the tangle of what-ifs are inevitable.

Before we move on to the new, we must grieve what we are losing. To attempt sidestepping these uncomfortable moments is to deny your own humanity.

I feel like I’m just getting out of the thick of this stage in the process of transitions. I knew it would come, but that didn’t make it any less messy. This time, though, rather than resisting the storm of uncertainty, I tried to pass through it. Sometimes it was a struggle just to put one foot in front of the other, but knowing that this was a necessary part of the process helped.

Staying the Course

There were no external confirmations that I was headed in the right direction. But internally I feel a shift of new confidence as I keep climbing. My senses feel more awake up in the alpine air. The distinct aroma of mountain air that no candle or air freshener can even hope to replicate fills my lungs. My eyes land on the happy yellow teacup of a flower, stubbornly growing atop a cactus. Aspen leaves dappled the sunlight above, and between the trees, a snow-capped mountain range cuts the horizon. Well, I think, I’m not sure where I’m headed, but I am here. And I love that I am here in this moment.

IMG_1365Between the doubt and the fear, poking through the brush like the views of the mountains, are glimpses of deep and resounding peace. Discovered by patient attention to the present moment, there are moments where we become brave enough to let go of the season we are leaving behind.

These aren’t the trite Hallmark card-sounding optimism that we pull out for talking to our acquaintances, but a deep equanimity that has come through the hard work of grieving and wrestling with the death we went through.

We find that we are able to be blessed by the past season. With all its imperfections, heartbreaks, and monotony, we see it for what it was. A beautiful part of our story that shaped us and laid the foundation, not only for this very moment, but also for the unforeseeable next season we are headed towards.

We recognize that there were beautiful moments of deep belonging and significance that named us. We also are able to honor the bruises and scars we carry as souvenirs, wounds that hurt like hell in the moment, but from which truth and growth flowed out in a way that we wouldn’t have traded for the world.

The line between honoring the past and the trap of nostalgia is subtle. With a little bit of distance between where I am now and that gorgeous view that the dead end led me too, I feel the urge to go back, to camp out there. But we cannot cling to the past if we want to fully inhabit the life we are now living. Rather, we enter into the dance of celebrating the gifts we have received and setting our sights on the road ahead. Believing C.S. Lewis’ promise that “there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

Arrival

The light starts to come down in ever widening shafts, the canopy clearing ahead to the peak of the mountain. Panoramic views dizzy my senses. My heart  is overwhelmed at the shades of hills and slopes repeating into the distance. Billowing cumulus mountains compete for grandeur with the peaks and slopes on the ground, their extravagant temporariness contrasting the mountains’ sheer confidence. I resist my millennial urge to look first through my iPhone screen, capturing the beauty and not really seeing it. I climb up onto a stack of boulders, taking me out that much further into the beauty and sit down cross-legged on the sun-warmed stone. Any memory of anxiety over whether I was on the right path is distant. The thought of turning back at the moment of feeling lost now seems laughable, as I drink in the beauty of the adventure.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetSo what happens on the other side of transition? What does it feel like to settle into the newness of what’s next? That’s a great question. I don’t think, in this transition, that I’m there yet. I’m probably back on the path, starting to accept where I am, being blessed by the dead ends and refusing the urge to turn back.

I think the arrival feels like embracing the spirit of the new season, which looks and feels different from the spirit of the last season. It’s a joyful settling into my new skin, learning how to fully inhabit the life I am currently living.

And, at some moment, it will come time to keep moving forward. There will come a time when this season will become a dead end. And rather than clinging, it will be time again to receive the invitation to “further up and further in.” On this side, that longing for home will never fully be satisfied.

And that is okay. “In order to come to fuller life and spirit, we must constantly be letting go of the present life and Spirit.”

*The framework of thought for this post came from an article I read called A Spirituality  of the Paschal Mystery. It is a chapter in the book The Holy Longing, by Ronald Rolheiser.

Embracing Your Own Mystery

“To be totally honest, I don’t know who I am. And I don’t think people ever will know who they are. We have to be humble enough to learn to live with this mysterious question. Who am I? I am a mystery to myself. I am someone who is in this pilgrimage from the moment that I was born to the day to come that I’m going to die… So, what I have to do is to honor this pilgrimage through life. And so I am this pilgrim…who’s constantly amazed by this journey. Who is learning a new thing every single day. But who’s not accumulating knowledge, because then it becomes a very heavy burden in your back. I am this person who is proud to be a pilgrim, and who’s trying to honor his journey.”      Paolo Cuehlo

A lot of the time, I want to have myself “All Figured Out.” I used to think I was one good journal session away from an Ultimate Breakthrough. I’d pour over personality test literature like a gold miner in California. Rather than searching for gold, I was yearning for a mirror to reflect back all the subtleties of my identity. Such relief was felt in articulating just how I was feeling and why, and then what I was going to do with that. Action plans and poetic self-actualization at its finest, folks.

The thing about entering into transitions, planned or not, is that they expose to us our own mysteries. Our predetermined presumptions fall away as new environments or situations bring out inner enigmas and paradoxes.

canoe girlSee, transitions have a way of slowing us down, or at least breaking us out of our normal routines of insulating familiarity. The hidden undercurrents of what we have been taking for granted become exposed. Our habits, our way of interacting with the world, our desires and interests, our very personality are seen in new light.

Inklings come to the surface: I thought this is what I wanted, but now I’m not so sure…I never thought I would’ve even considered that opportunity, but now I find myself intrigued…I used to assume that this was the way it was, but what if it isn’t? Rather than the clear-cut assumptions we’ve been living out of, we find within ourselves a cacophony of opposing desires and driving forces.

What will we do with these new revelations? Change at any level can be scary. When we sense this metamorphosis happening at our core, we are faced with a choice. Do we submit to the process of death (of our old selves, our old way of being) and the painful/awkward process of figuring out a new life? Or do we run to the safety of business-as-usual?

It depends on whether you see the world you inhabit as static or dynamic.

A static view of the world: Things are finished. Already written. I am the way that I am. The world is going to keep going on the trajectory that has been set since the beginning of time.

A dynamic view of the world: The world is unfinished. Things were set in motion, but we have agency, choice, response-ability to interact. I can change things and be changed.

A static viewpoint would dismiss new awakenings as passing fancies.

A dynamic viewpoint would listen attentively, holding back judgment.

A static viewpoint sees life as something that is happening to you.

A dynamic viewpoint sees life as an open invitation to enter into the creative process.

A static viewpoint says “This is the way I am.”

A dynamic viewpoint says, “That was who I was. Who am I now becoming?”

A static viewpoint sticks to the planned narrative.

A dynamic viewpoint is open to plot twists.

dock lake mountainsWe feel frustrated when others tell us about ourselves, announcing with a smug gleam in their eye something to the effect of “Oh, let me tell you who you are. I know what you are thinking. I know what you want. This is the way you always act.”

How dare you? You don’t know the first thing about me! We think daggers at them as we smile tight smiles with our ingrained politeness.

And yet, isn’t this exactly what we do with ourselves all the time? Well, that’s just the way that I am. I always (fill in the blank). I’ll never (fill in the blank). We get stuck in our own ruts of familiarity. We succumb to repeated history, with a shrug. Truth is, we’ve started letting others, our past, and our current circumstances name us a long time ago, and it’s just a lot easier to stay the course.

There’s something comforting in choosing a static view of the world and ourselves. We take solace in thinking that we don’t really change that much over the course of our lives. We like the stories our mothers tell at family gatherings about how we were when we were toddlers, and how our personality traits that we now possess were evident, even then.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I geek out about discussions around personality. I find the dynamics of how we are wired and how that affects us fascinating. But I felt a paradigm shift happening while listening to NPR’s Invisibilia a couple of weeks ago. (If you don’t listen to this podcast, you’re wrong. Start at season 1, and then let me know so we can talk about it!)

There was an episode on the “myth of personality.” What if these assumptions about how our dispositions stay constant throughout our lives were just that, assumptions? Assumptions that we build our lives around. Personality tests are excellent diagnostic tools to discover why we are the way we are currently, but they can be dangerous when they start becoming the definition of who we are, a sentence of who we will remain. Equally dangerous is the act of putting our full identity in our occupation, or a specific relationship, role or tribe.

Even though we hate the idea of labels and bristle at others trying to put us into boxes, why is it that we cling to these self-descriptions? Why do I feel just a little bit lost now that I don’t have a nice and tidy answer to the question “What do you do?” It’s harder than it sounds to make peace with our own mysteries and contradictions. I feel a safe sense of control when I have things “figured out.” When I can pin things down in a static viewpoint, I know how to operate.

It is true that there are patterns, predictable tendencies from the interwoven mystery of our genes and our environment. And our brains need to have categories, which involve labels. Sitting down to wrap my mind around something is a necessary step in moving forward. That’s not the issue. The issue comes when we settle into those categories, becoming rigid in the way we see our own possibilities of who we are.

The question is, how willing are we to be surprised by ourselves?

mountain canoeThe quote at the beginning of this post is from Krista Tippett’s interview with Paulo Coehlo. I am challenged and inspired by what he said. “We have to be humble enough to learn to live with this mysterious question. Who am I?” Author of the book The Alchemist, Coelho was a man who lived his life as one on the journey of pilgrimage. To say, at the age of 66 “I don’t know who I am” is a statement that belies a humble wisdom. I like to think that I’ve got myself figured out at age 28 1/2. But in transition’s stark clarity, I see that I have so much unlearning to do. I want to adopt Paolo’s generous curiosity towards myself.

I want to fully enter into the “endless process of becoming” as Rob Bell calls it. And the older I get, the more I’m realizing that wisdom isn’t in arriving at conclusions and staying there. It’s more a series of funerals and birthdays; letting go of the old and being open to the new. I truly am being transformed by the renewing of my mind. I’m not letting go of who I am, but becoming more deeply myself.

Why am I Writing This Blog?

“Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions.” Shannon L. Adler

I am two weeks into my new life as a “pretired” teacher. It’s been filled to the brim with the details of both saying goodbye to the city I’ve lived in for five years and making plans for the upcoming season of traveling on the west coast. As this big change starts to come into focus, the realness of exactly what I’m doing causes three rotating internal responses:

  1. A feeling of giddy excitement at the thought of my upcoming adventures.
  2. A terror that settles in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps like the feeling a trapeze artist might get reaching for the next bar and feeling nothing. What the heck did I just do, flinging myself away from everything familiar and stable?
  3. A familiar ache of loneliness. I’m heading out into so much newness, and I’m doing it alone. I chose that, and I wouldn’t wish it to be different. Not really. But the reality of all the bravery ahead makes me feel small. Makes me wish for someone to hold my hand, to say “It’s okay, we’ll figure this out together.”compass hand

Underneath all of this cacophony of emotions and thoughts inside is a deep sense of rightness. A feeling that taking this journey is an act of aligning my actions with who I am and who I’m becoming. So I keep trying to take small steps forward.

Even though these steps are leading away from my expected and safe narrative.

Even though a mountain of unknowns looms in front of me.

Even though taking these steps forward will mean hard and raw realities in the coming months.

Small steps like trying to figure out what health insurance looks like outside of the luxurious benefits I’ve been living with as an elementary teacher. Small steps like trying to find people that will trust me to housesit for them through Trusted Housesitters. Small steps like trying to think through what the purpose of this blog is. 

I sat down at a coffee shop a few weekends ago, attempting a first draft of this post. I opened up the blank word processing page, flipped to the page in my journal with the idea web I had scrawled out earlier, and was flooded with the distinct joy that comes when you are doing work that feels like what you were made for. In that moment, I didn’t have any of the questions answered. No logistics figured out. But I was doing the life-giving work I know I’ve been needing to pursue for a long time.

journal computerThe Japanese have a word for this. They call it your ikigai. “That for which you get out of bed for in the morning.”(I first heard this in Rob Bell’s new book How to Be Here. So good.) Passion. Calling. Vocation. Purpose. Call it what you like, but aligning all aspects of your life with what makes you fully alive is so deeply important. The creative act of making a life in which you can flourish is the joy of being human. For me right now, a lot of my ikigai is found through the process of creating this blog.

Doing the work of clarifying what my ikigai is has been a long process. One that I’m still in the midst of defining. I think it started when I went on a “solo-cation” to Omaha this fall. I started to sense that this might be my last year as an elementary teacher. In the quiet space of that weekend, I asked my soul, “if not teaching, then what?” And my heart timidly responded, “I’d really like to write, please.”

To be honest, I was a bit bewildered at my own response at first.  While writing had been a part of the fabric of my life for almost as long as I can remember, it had mostly been a private affair. Journaling was a necessity, processing out loud the interior and exterior things I was coming up against. But I’d only been blogging, sharing some of those musings out loud, intermittently over the past few years. It was the spark of joy that came from crafting words together and sharing them with others that ignited something that is now changing the course of my life.

Not that there are any guarantees. No promise that quitting my career as a teacher to pursue writing will get me anywhere. That’s not what your ikigai is about. I have no idea if I will “Make It” as a writer. I have no idea if this is a Viable Career Path. But I do know that I feel the most healthy when writing is a part of my rhythm. I know that I feel purposeful in this work, even in the mundane, tedious aspects of it. This isn’t that thing I would try if I knew I couldn’t fail, like those motivational bumper stickers say. This is the thing I am trying, even if I do fail. And that’s how I know it’s my ikigai.

After the initial spark of inspiration in Omaha, there were still seven months in the school year. Seven more months of trying to figure out exactly what I was going to do in this quarter life crisis of mine. They say 90% of figuring out what you want to do is figuring out what you don’t want to do. Engaging in that process over the last few months has meant slowing down long enough to listen to what I am feeling drawn to, and distinguishing that from the noise of everything else. It has been a process of opening up to possibility and risk, but also practicing the bravery of setting boundaries and saying no to good things. I wanted to articulate some of the conclusions I’ve come to about Allie Illuminated with you.

I’ll start with what this blog isn’t. It’s not my intention for this blog to be an online journal where I only chronicle and process my life. While showing up on the page week after week on this blog has been deeply helpful for my own growth, that is what my personal journal is for.

Neither is it my desire to curate some formulaic how-to blog for working remotely and traveling around the country solo. I don’t claim to have all the answers, nor do I want some enviable online presence that portrays a myth that I’ve got it all figured out. In my present state, I can’t claim any expertise, but I can say that I’m trying to live the questions. In this blog, I’m hoping to voice those vulnerable questions aloud. I think my ikigai right now is creating things that bring those connective and so needed for the human soul moments of “Her too? Oh, I thought I was the only one!”

Allie Illuminated is a why-to blog about aligning all aspects of your life with that which makes you feel most alive. Rather than a formulaic how-to blog, this is a space where I’m sharing my vulnerable thoughts in the journey in hopes that others will connect, and I’m asking the questions aloud in hopes that others will engage with those questions and step into their own stories. 

I’m not claiming to have it all figured out here. With so many unknowns, I can only lean into trusting that God’s got me. I’m not even claiming to have my blog’s branding identity all figured out right now. But it’s a starting point. A step in the right direction.

Continually, I’m having to practice a posture of openhandedness, even as I start to make plans, making peace with all the uncertainty. It has been messy these first two weeks for sure. One foot is stepping out into this unknown, excited about all the possibilities. The other is planted in fear, wanting to try and have the perfect plan all laid out before moving forward. And there are so many moments of lonely self-doubt. But the more I talk to others that have gone before me, that security blanket of perfect plans doesn’t exist. I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but you, dear reader, are welcome to come along for the ride.pointing trees

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”  Friedrich Nietzsche

How to be Messy Well

You know that moment when Wile E. Coyote, suspended in mid-air, realized that he’s just run off the cliff?

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That’s a little bit of what it feels like to be me right now.

Another school year ended last week. Ceremonies, deadlines, field trips, checklists, picnics, meetings, grading, cleaning, games, packing, and the flurry of activity that marks the end of an elementary year. The rhythm wasn’t a healthy  one and I couldn’t wait for it to end, and yet, now that it’s come, I feel bereft.

Every year, the first week of summer feels somewhat like this. Throughout the school year, I become addicted to the rhythm of structured chaos and productive busyness. When summer comes, it’s always hard at first. Like I’m going through a detox, the painful withdrawal symptoms being a mild existential crisis. I’m feeling this uncomfortable downshift more keenly than other summers, as the end of this school year signified not just saying goodbye to being a teaching to this group of students, but I’m saying goodbye to being a teacher altogether. I’m in this surreal realization that I just walked away from my first career, a steady salary, the solid ground of my expected narrative.

So many things came to an end this week, and the new beginnings aren’t quite clear just yet. Similar to that cartoon Coyote, I’ve been running, and I’ve taken for granted the solid ground that’s always been beneath my feet. There’s always been a logical next step. The comfort of predictability. But now I’m stepping out into a reality where the level of unknowns are unprecedented. And I feel like just like Wile E., coming to grips with my reality, eyes bugging out in the pause before the plunge.

But unlike Coyote, I knew what I was getting into. Sure, I’ve been running full steam ahead, but I had been counting down the days till the end for a long time. I knew the cliff was coming and have been preparing myself to end well. I even sought out counseling months ago, knowing the turbulence of the upcoming transition would be challenging.

My counselor has been asking me a powerful question. “What does it mean to end well?” I wrote about my thoughts a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been trying so hard to lean into being fully present in this transition. Of speaking my truth and staying engaged, rather than withdrawing or jumping into planning for the future. I’ve been creating rituals to name and honor the season that is ending, practicing gratitude for the people and places that have become familiar companions these last few years.

I was so determined to end well, that I ran right into an all-too-familar trap, just like a Looney Toons character. The anvil that landed on my head might have had “Perfectionist-Expectations” written across it.

Which is why I sat down in the chair across from my counselor a few weeks ago, exhausted, bitter, and heart aching over the weight of my own expectations to “do it right.” I felt so tired from trying to muster up the energy to remain fully present to all things. I was expecting myself to remain “all in” until the last moment. I turned the idea of “ending well” into a checklist of rules to perform perfectly, and it wasn’t working.

Throughout the course of that counseling session, we sat with that tension, acknowledging the desire to end well and to fully honor the process as a good thing. But I also needed to realize (or remember) that I can’t and won’t “end perfectly.” I can’t say all the right things and end well with every interaction. Yes, it is good to engage with the process, to try to remain present in the moment. I don’t want to regret leaving things undone or unsaid. But part of ending is acknowledge the inevitable deaths occurring. Submitting to letting go, which doesn’t happen all at once. Gradients of change happen in the dying process. Grief and sadness need space, and that means not doing all of the things all of the time. There are a myriad of emotions, complex and vibrant, emerging throughout endings, and they need to be reckoned with. My heart posture was trying keep pace with the chaos of the end of the school year. I just wanted permission to start letting go. To let go of these expectations to “end well perfectly.”

Ok, so endings are messy. Challenging, laced with uncertainty and the inability to have a gameplan. (And can we just acknowledge for a moment, that “messy” has become glorified in our millennial culture? A lifestyle concept that has the appearance of free-spirited authenticity from the other side of a Instagram, but in the daily grind of messy, it’s not so glamourous. I can attest to that.) But when messiness is my reality, it can just turn into another thing to try to master. I try to be messy perfectly. Ha.

So this time around, I’m trying as much as possible to get out of my own way and to be where I am. To feel all the feels, as my friend Jordan would say. This is what my counselor and I came up with. Not a list of rules, but some thoughts on stepping into messiness in a healthy, holistic sense. Practical ways of giving myself permission to be where I am.

Pay Attention

heart rockSo often, in questions about the pursuit of joy, or finding peace, or living in reality, the answer comes back to the present moment. It’s the magnetic pole that the compass keeps pointing towards. “Pay attention to what you’re feeling, and even where in your body you are feeling it,” my counselor advised. Open your eyes to what’s going on around you and listen to how your spirit is responding internally. So easily, my mind fixates on something that happened last week or gravitates towards neurotically scrolling through my to-do list. Patiently, kindly, I keep leading my wandering self back to this moment. Be here, now. Be awake to this moment. Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat.

Get Curious

Ocean BoulderAs much as possible, I’m trying to not get stuck in the rut of assumptions, even about my own self. I’m practicing a posture of curiosity towards myself and my reactions. This is not an open invitation to indulge in self-analysis or to slip into a downward spiral of introspection. Rather, it is a posture of open-handedness. What am I feeling in this moment? Why did I feel that way? What thought patterns need to be discarded in this new season? With the gentleness that I find easier to extend to others, I’m trying to be kind with myself in sitting with these questions, either through journaling, on a long walk, or in processing with a friend. 

Honor Yourself

flower handoffFor a perfectionist, part of being messy is breaking the rules of expectations that I hold over myself. Asking “what do I need in this moment? What does it look like to honor myself right now?” And then (most of the time) doing just that. I’ve been keeping a big stack of pretend permission slips close by and giving them to myself when the moment calls for it. You need to skip going to the gym today? You got it. You need to not care about state testing anymore? OK. My counselor added that if honoring yourself can lead to connection, great. Practice needing to need, as Brené Brown says. Reaching out and asking to get coffee with a friend. Asking for a hug from my roommate. Sharing my messy processing with someone via text rather than carrying the burden alone. That’s what it has been looking like to honor myself in small ways that add up to mean big things.

Make Peace with the “Negative”

IMG_0108I’ve been noticing, within my own thought patterns, how much I’m believing the story that I’m only worthy, or desirable for connection when I’m bringing positive emotions to the table. When I’m feeling stable, optimistic in the face of frustrating situations. That I often try to do whatever I can to silence the sadness, to numb the funk that just comes with transitions. A big part of “being messy” well means fully accepting all the parts of me. Because when I allow the scared, whiny, self-pitying parts of me to air their grievances, rather than shushing them into a resentful repression, they actually don’t feel as heavy. Ironically, when I give myself permission to be in a weird mood, it doesn’t last as long.

The truth is, I’m walking contradiction these days. So many complex emotions are swimming around. I feel like I’m a pinprick away from a much needed ugly cry, and I’m also resting in a contented excitement over my upcoming adventure. I am delighting in this season, and also glad to be rid of it. If I start to zoom out too far, I get dizzy at the prospect of so many unknowns, but if I take just the next step, I’m fine. More than fine. Exactly where I’m supposed to be.  I’m writing to you from the midst of all of this. And this post reflects the messiness I find myself in. Someone who doesn’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to step into the questions.

Finding (or rather… being found by) Thin Places

“You know, we could go camping this weekend…”

Those words, uttered in the kitchen on a Wednesday night is how our adventure started.

With just ten weeks left of living in my home of three years, I want to soak up all the time I can with these roommates that have come to feel like sisters. Macy was in her final days of a break before heading into another semester of nursing school. After some travel plans fell through, this idea made itself known as a brilliant Plan B.

Reveling in the shiny newness of our spontaneous decision, we debated where we should go.

“Somewhere we haven’t been before…”

“But somewhere close-ish…”

“And by a body of water!”

“Ooh. Yes.”

And just like that, Saturday afternoon, we loaded up the car with a few essentials (my new tent, hiking boots, a C.S Lewis book, whiskey…) and we hit the road.

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Two hours and one Sonic trip later, we ended up at the Harry S. Truman State Park. You guys. This place felt like the most well kept secret. I was one part mad I’m only just now discovering this hidden gem, and three parts delighted by the subtly stunning beauty we discovered in central Missouri. Winding roads weaved in and out of a network of peninsulas and bluffs that make up the Ozarks. The tidy efficiency of the Missouri State Park system, with brown and yellow signs pointed the way to quaint locations such as “Wild Turkey Ridge” and “Devil’s Backbone.”

I was once again reminded of just how alive I feel when I am on an adventure. When I choose to seek out beauty, even in a place that has become familiar. The joy I feel when I say yes to simple, good things. All of me rejoices when I jettison the comforts of my cozy couch and numbing Netflix.

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We found the perfect spot, near the water, and even, joy of joys, a dock on which to watch the sunrise the next morning. We pitched our little tent (dwarfed by the mansion tents  that those expert campers around us were lounging in) and got the lay of the land.

Elated by the sheer perfection of this campground, we set out for a short hike before dinner. The trail loop we picked promised an array of midwestern fauna. A moss carpeted green canopy gave way to a savannah of quietly dancing grass. It was there, up on a ridge, overlooking the lake, with lavender skies bleeding to apricot, I felt that Macy and I had stumbled into a thin place.

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Photo by Macy Brisben

Wait—what is a “thin place” you ask?

You know. Because you’ve probably been to one before. I had, many times, but only recently heard of this term, first used by Celtic Mystics (got to love the Irish.) Shauna Niequist, an author that I adore, wrote about it in book I’ve been reading, Bittersweet, so it’s been an idea in my attention collection recently.

“A thin place, according to the Celtic mystics, is a place where the boundary between the natural world and the supernatural one is more permeable—thinner, if you will…a place where God’s presence is almost palpable…places where the boundary between the divine world and the human world becomes almost nonexistent, and the two, divine and human, can for a moment, dance together uninterrupted.”

Now you know what I’m talking about, right? These places that we find, often when we aren’t expecting it, where something inside us senses this glory, this deep feeling of rightness, and for a fleeting moment, everything makes sense. Or maybe it’s that we make peace with the mystery. All I know is that I love the way Shauna said it, and my heart totally resonates—it’s these moments of dancing with the divine.

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These thin places can be anywhere, but they aren’t predictable. If I were to go back to that wildflower bedecked ridge, the thin place may not still be there. It was a beautiful moment, and the holiness did reside in that physical location. I just know it. We can’t use a GPS to find them, we can’t manufacture them, or force our way in. We find them, or they find us when our posture is one of open expectancy.

I’ve found thin places on stormy beaches near Muir Woods and on the top of plateaus in central Brazil. And those Irish discovered them for a reason. I do believe they are all over that Emerald Isle as well. 

But I’ve also stumbled upon thin places on quiet walks in my neighborhood, or even in my car while driving to my parent’s house. There’s this secret spot on the Missouri River just north of town where I’ve found that the veil between ordinary and holy was translucent, and I’ve often returned there and found clarity and peace.

Ordinary and mundane, or extravagant and sacred, I think thin places are everywhere. At least that’s what I’m beginning to suspect. It seems like I find them more when I’m traveling, but maybe that’s just because my eyes are more open to the beauty around me when I’m somewhere new.

“Truth abides in thin places; naked, raw, hard to face truth.  Yet the comfort, safety and strength to face that truth also abides there.  Thin places captivate our imagination, yet diminish our existence.  We become very small, yet we gain connection and become part of something larger than we can perceive.”  —Mindie Burgoyne

We are changed when we encounter this holy ground, just like Moses was. When I find myself in a thin place, things are put into perspective. My eyes are taken off of myself. I realize that a lot of my “emergencies,” aren’t. My heart feels reminded of who and why I am as I glimpse the reality of this Divine Beauty.

I am refreshed.

I am renewed.

I am restored.

And thin places can be physical locations, but these heaven-meets-earth moments can also arrive in certain occasions, ceremonies, or even seasons.

Like a season of transition.

(There’s that word again. I just keep bringing it up, probably mostly because I’m in the midst of one, but I think they are so important for just this reason!)

I deeply believe that times of transition are ripe with thin places. Maybe our hearts feel raw and vulnerable in the upheaval of all certainty and consistency. Our eyes are unveiled and we see just how close the sacred is to our ordinary humanness. God’s almost tangible presence has been a consistent closeness time and time again during transition. I feel the invitation to look up from my navel-gazing and see his hand extended. I sense a deeper desire to be rooted in the present moment, to Be Here Now and not miss it by distracting worries or regrets. 

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Photo by Macy Brisben

The thing about transitions is that they often have to do with identity. The where, or the what, or the with whom changes, and it brings up deep questions of identity and purpose. Rather than tailspinning into an existential crisis, these thin places are a reminder, anchoring us to the Truth of who we were always meant to be, who we are in the process of becoming.

“Thin places…transform us—or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves. —Eric Weiner

Where have you encountered thin places in your life? What does it look like to engage with the present ordinary moments of familiarity and routine, looking for thin places? How are you being invited to dance with the divine?

 

 

The Importance of Ending Well

May is full of transition. So many endings intertwined with new beginnings. End of school year parties and Summer Kickoffs. Winter clothes being stored away and the tank tops and skirts reappearing in the wardrobe. Weddings. Graduations. Birthdays. Oh my!

I guess I’m realizing that May has been such a transitional month for most of my life. Probably because my life has revolved around a school calendar since I was in Kindergarten. In a few short weeks, though, I will be walking away from the academic world. Looming ahead of me is one of the biggest transitions I’ve experienced in a long time: leaving Kansas City, my career as a teacher, and setting out to find what the next season of life will look like for me.

Perhaps your twenties are one big transition, or a string of transitions, one after another. It seems everyone I know is in the midst of a transition, just recovering from one, or about to experience a big change in some way. In looking back at my blog, I realize this has been a theme in my writing—naming the struggle and the beauty of seasons of transition. As I am about to shift into this next season, it is so easy to set my focus entirely on the new. My attention is lured in by the planning, dreaming, and investing in the Up & Coming, and I lose sight of the Here & Now. I forget to look back.

I think we have a tendency, in our fast paced culture, to avoid endings. We rush into the next thing headlong, not leaving margin to process what just happened. Or we see an ending coming up and we start to withdraw, subtly and efficiently self protecting to avoid the pain of goodbye. We put such emphasis on beginning well, making good first impressions. We labor to invest in things in the midst of things even, but how often do we focus on intentionally ending well?

Ending doesn’t always mean finality, nor do we often have fairytale endings where everything is tidily resolved. But there is such a beautiful power in giving space to honor something that is coming to a close. As a society we have rituals to honor the big moments, graduation ceremonies, funerals, and retirements. But interwoven into our ordinary lives are so many beginnings and endings. Moving out of a home you’ve lived in for years, switching jobs, the end of a school year, the end of a relationship, the end of a big project you’ve been working on even—I think these endings need to be recognized as well!

bridge girl

What does it mean to end well? This is a question I’ve been pondering a lot, with so many things coming to an end in my near future. How can I honor and name what has been, and gracefully move forward in my story? I’m learning the importance of remembering what has passed with ritual, honestly grieving the losses and naming the hurt, as well as celebrating with a grateful heart.

Intention-Infused Ritual

Ceremonies and ritual has become somewhat of a lost art in our culture. It’s gotten somewhat of a bad rap, especially when rituals become an empty shell of what they were intended to be. Just going through the motions can certainly leave a bad taste in your mouth. But ritual infused with meaning and intention is a powerful thing. It integrates and engages body, mind, and spirit in the midst of community. “This is what rituals are for,” says one of my favorite humans, Elizabeth Gilbert. “We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping.”

My roommates and I have started a ritual for when someone in our home gets married (and believe me, it’s been necessary—four of the eight people I’ve lived with in the last three years have gotten married or are getting married!) We named this ritual the Fiancé Beyoncé Seancé. We all wear white and light candles up in the attic and sit in a circle. We gather up in that attic space and share a prayer or hope for the bride. We drink wine remember our time of living together and laugh. (It feels very Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets what I imagine a sorority initiation ceremony would be like.) I know what you’re thinking—this is so ridiculous. Even filled with laughter and shaking our own heads at our silly pomp and circumstance, this was a ritual that we made up to help name the end of that roommate’s time in our home and the beginning of their new life with their husband.

I’m finding myself longing for more rituals like this in my life. Wanting to mark or recognize in some way all of the monumental and even little changes that are happening all around me. I’m dreaming up simple rituals I can create for myself to mark the end of my time as a teacher. Leaving Kansas City. Saying goodbye (for now) to friends I have mad here. It might be as simple as lighting a candle and writing a goodbye letter or as elaborate as a gathering of friends with music and ceremony. There is a release that happens in our bodies when we mark important events in our lives with intentional rituals.

candle hand

Good Grief

Saying yes to something new always comes at a cost. It requires us to say goodbye to other things, and to say no to alternate options. At some point along the way, we feel the weight of our choices. We grieve the losses we chose. It’s part of accepting the limitations of being human.  As I have been thinking about things coming to a close in my life, I realized how integral grieving is in the process.

Endings are rarely the neat and satisfying denouement that we find in fairy tales. Transitions are messy, especially in relationships. And endings sometimes come from a boundary line being drawn because of that hurt or frustration. Mostly unintentionally, but sometimes on purpose, we hurt each other. It’s tempting to just try to ignore those wounds, especially in rhythm of “normal life,” but when goodbyes are looming, there is a question of what to do with myriad of emotions. I have been discovering the power and healthiness of naming those hurts. When I am honest with myself and others, rather than the easier but much more detrimental habit of pretending like everything is fine, I am able to heal faster and more fully. I need to grieve over my hurt. Colossal or seemingly silly, our pain needs to be reckoned with. Reckoned with so that we can actually feel the freedom that comes in forgiveness.

Grateful Celebration

Equally important in ending well is practicing gratitude. In many major transitions that we do recognize as a culture, we often have our sights set on what is ahead. Celebrating what is to come—a marriage, a promotion at work, a new addition to the family. These things should bring us joy and we are right to revel in them. But I think it is also just as important to celebrate what we finish as well. To create space to remember and to name the season we are leaving. And to honor what that season brought us, how it shaped us.

You know how Jimmy Fallon writes thank you letters to random things? I think I want to do something similar. To practice gratitude by writing thank you letters to not just people, but places, events, things, locations that have made my last season memorable.

Thank you, Kansas City, for being such a well kept secret of a city. I picked an incredible five years in your life to live here as you transformed into a city of dynamic growth.

Thank you, park bench where I sometimes eat my lunch when it’s nice outside. You were a refuge of quiet space in the middle of chaotic days. 

Thank you, Flute Busker that shows up at the Farmer’s Market every week and plays random notes that somewhat assemble a recognizable tune. Your unpredictable jazzy notes never failed to bring a wide grin to my face.

 Knowing that my time here is coming to a close, I don’t want to hold back my gratitude from anything or anyone. A kind of boldness comes alongside me when I know I am leaving, and I feel more gumption to say what’s on my mind. To tell people what they’ve meant to me. I want to lean into that impulse.

yoga on a cliff julia caesarRemembering

Certainly, there can be a trap of nostalgia when we look back. Being filled with wistful longing for “the way things were” is not engaging with reality. It keeps us bogged down in the past and an easy temptation to fall into when the rawness of a new season leaves us aching for the familiar.  Creating margin in the transitions to remember, name, grieve, and celebrate what was helps us process so as to move on. When we do this, we are laying the past down as a foundation, so that we can step off into the next season with open hands, ready to receive.